Alva C Tanner

Alva Tanner was born in 1834 to Abel and Harriet (Roberts) Tanner in New Dover, Union County, Ohio. His older siblings were Holley (1830) and Martha (1831); two sisters, Charlotte (1837) and Hannah (1840) were born later. The New Dover area saw significant immigration to Iowa in the pre-war years with Alva, five Mather brothers, Jim Bethard, and Joel and Sarah Rice and their five children among those moving west. On May 12, 1859, Alva and eighteen-year-old Mary Ann Bolton were married by Rev. B. Holland in Mahaska County. 

    During the 1860 presidential campaign, many in the South threatened to secede if Abraham Lincoln won the election but most in the North were unconcerned and viewed these as hollow threats intended to secure more voters for Democratic candidates. When Lincoln was elected, Confederate cannon in South Carolina fired on Fort Sumter in Charleston’s harbor on April 12, 1861. Three days later President Lincoln called for 75,000 volunteers to augment the regular army. Throughout the North, volunteers answered the call but the war escalated and more were needed. On October 17, 1861, in Hopewell, Iowa, Alva, his cousin Walter Tanner and a friend, Amos Wymore, enlisted in what would be Company C of the state’s 15th regiment of volunteer infantry. They were mustered into service on December 31st with Alva detailed as a ward master and nurse in the regimental hospital facilities for the first year of his service.

    In April, near Pittsburg Landing in Tennessee, Alva was with the newly arrived 15th Iowa, unseasoned troops, many wearing "a big high hat with a large brass eagle on the side," eating breakfast when firing started "a long distance" away near the Shiloh Church. They had only recently received their arms, “had never had an opportunity of learning the use of them until they came on the battlefield” and would fight the enemy “without the support of artillery.” Lieutenant Colonel William Dewey took "consolation through the neck of a pint bottle" that seemed to give him "a stronger flow of swear language than before" and moved the regiment to the front, across a field, through timber and down a hill. They met "shells, grape and canister" and many died but Alva was among the survivors. Amos Wymore, however, contracted chronic diarrhea and was discharged near Corinth in November.

    On April 16, 1863, at the start of the Vicksburg Campaign, Alva was promoted from Private to 5th Corporal as General Grant’s 30,000-man army was leaving Milliken’s Bend, Louisiana. Staying west of the river, they moved slowly south along dirt roads, across plantations, through swamps and over bayous causing many to become ill. In the 21st Iowa, while serving in a corps led by General McClernand, Jim Bethard was one of many who, too sick to continue, were left behind at Ashwood Landing while their regiment moved on. Still there on May 18th, Jim wrote to his wife and said he had seen some of their Ohio classmates and “I also saw Alva Tanner a cousin to James he was also an old school mate.” 

    On June 7, 1863, during the siege, Alva was promoted 1st Corporal, as Confederate troops under General Joe Johnston scouted the rear of the Union lines while the 15th Iowa and other Northern regiments monitored their movements. They were at Messenger’s Ferry across the Big Black River when Vicksburg surrendered on July 4th and the next day, they “were treated to whiskey and you never saw a more lively set in your life.” Tents that had been left at Milliken’s Bend arrived on July 29th and, a month later, a special order granted Alva a 30-day furlough to return to Oskaloosa.

    As the year neared an end and three-year enlistments were coming to a close, the government offered incentives - furloughs and bonuses - to soldiers willing to continue their service as veterans.  Alva was among the three-fourths of the regiment that elected to reenlist for another three years “or the war.” On December 31st he was mustered out and on January 1st he was re-mustered as a veteran. In February he left on his veteran’s furlough. 

    On their return, Alva was promoted to 3rd Sergeant as they joined General Sherman during his march into Alabama and Georgia.  On August 9, 1864, Alva was in command of the company and serving as a picket near Atlanta when he was shot and killed. The company’s 1st Sergeant wrote to Mary “with a heavy heart and much reluctance” to tell her of her husband’s death.  The musket ball had entered “near the right shoulder & it is supposed that the ball popped downwards through his lungs killing him instantly. He only said two or three words as I am told he spoke to James Hawkins and said, ‘Jim I am shot.’” Alva was “one of the very best soldiers in the army,” he said.  “He was my best friend.” After the war Alva was reburied in Marietta National Cemetery.

    On September 13th, Mary signed an application for a widow’s pension with Alva’s older sister as one of the witnesses. On February 4, 1865, a certificate was mailed entitling Mary to $8.00 monthly, payable quarterly through the Fairfield Agency, but her entitlement ended on May 11, 1866, when she married Alva’s comrade, Amos Wymore. Mary had two children with Amos - Julian Finis Wymore in 1878 and Hattie Ellen Wymore in 1881.

    On June 22, 1880, Amos applied for an invalid pension indicating the chronic diarrhea contracted seventeen years earlier was continuing. His application was supported by Oskaloosa doctor D. A. Hoffman and by friends and comrades. The claim was investigated and Amos was examined by a board of pension surgeons who felt he was partially disabled from earning his subsistence by manual labor. In 1887 Amos secured more supportive affidavits including one from a boyhood friend, R. T. Spates, who had served with Amos and “when he left us at Corinth Miss, I did not expect to ever see him alive again.” More medical evaluations and affidavits followed and eventually he was approved for an $8.00 monthly pension. Amos died on March 9, 1900, and was buried in Wymore Cemetery in Rose Hill.

    The following month, Mary applied for a pension as Amos’ widow but the Bureau of Pensions was skeptical since the value of her assets - a span of mules, cows, pigs, a wagon, corn, hay, a mower, a cultivator, a plow, a sewing machine, other personal items and a one-third dower interest in 229 acres - seemed to indicate “she has a net annual income of more than two hundred and fifty dollars” and therefore was not a “dependent” under the law. She then applied for restoration of the pension she had received as Alva’s widow. As the process dragged on, Mary moved in with Hattie and her husband, supportive affidavits were filed, and a Special Examiner deposed Mary, her son and several friends and neighbors. Finally, on November 30, 1908, more than eight years after she had applied, a certificate was issued entitling Mary to $12.00 monthly.  She died on June 14, 1920, and was buried in Wymore Cemetery.

Submitted by: Carl Ingwalson, San Diego

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